ANNAPOLIS – Thump. Thump-thump. Thump. Thump-thump. The deafening bass beat pumped out by powerful car stereos is music to the ears of many teens and 20-somethings.
It’s noise pollution to most everyone else.
In a victory for everyone else, a new Maryland law went into effect last weekend changing the penalty for playing a car stereo too loud from a civil to a criminal charge.
And though the law’s sponsor said the change was intended to keep police officers out of court – not to crack down on kids who crank the Backstreet Boys at 110 decibels while cruising to 7-Eleven – it likely will result in more citations.
Under the old penalty, violating the state’s noise law required car stereo blasters to appear in court, even if pleading guilty and paying their fine.
“The stats show that 99 percent of the people currently coming before the court (with this charge) plead guilty,” said state Sen. Richard F. Colburn, R- Dorchester, the law’s sponsor.
The new penalty, a criminal misdemeanor, will be treated as a traffic violation, allowing violators to simply pay a fine without a court appearance. Those who dispute the charge may still protest in a court hearing. The definition of too loud – a stereo that can be heard from 50 feet away – did not change.
Though the law caps fines at $500, Colburn said fines of more than $50 will be unlikely. The violation will not add points to a driving record, but like other traffic violations it will be noted on a driver’s record, he said.
Colburn hopes the change will take police officers out of court and put them back on the street.
“Their time can be better spent on the street than in a courtroom for writing a noise violation,” he said.
Because police officers do not have to appear in court under the new law, they might be quicker to whip out the ticket book, said Col. Larry Harmel, president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
“I think more tickets will probably be written for this, but I don’t think it will be an avalanche,” said Harmel, who is also chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
The charge is not a common one, Harmel said.
“It’s unlikely that a police officer would look for this and this alone,” he said. Citations stem from, “complaints from neighborhoods where someone is driving up and down the road blasting away.”
In the car stereo section of an Annapolis Best Buy on Tuesday, a pair of teens checking out the sub-woofers, big speakers, and 10-disc CD changers did not seem concerned.
“I don’t like it,” said Kyle Tribett, a 17-year-old high school student from Gambrills who doesn’t plan to turn the volume down.
“It’s a pointless law,” concurred friend Craig Roberts, 17, of Odenton. “If they write us tickets left and right it might affect us. But until then it won’t stop us.”